The King Rail was first described in 1834 by the preeminent ornithologist and artist John James Audubon. This largest North American rail species is about the size of a chicken and is sometimes locally called the “Marsh Hen.”
Unlike smaller nocturnal relatives, including theBlack Rail, the King Rail is active during the day. Much of the bird’s time is spent behind dense cover, but lucky viewers might spot one stalking along the marsh edge. While not often seen, this species is frequently heard.
This species nests in freshwater and brackish wetlands along the Atlantic coastal plain, around the Mississippi River and Great Lakes, including in southern Ontario, and in scattered inland wetlands elsewhere in the East. Birds nesting in the Southeast are permanent residents, while more northerly nesters migrate, wintering in the southern United States and Mexico.